9 burning questions for BrainHQ’s founder, Dr. Michael Merzenich

Dr. Merzenich chats about his inspiration for creating BrainHQ, what sets his brain training program apart, and more.

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It takes a lot of brainpower to create BrainHQ’s brain training program. And much of that belongs to one man: Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at University of California San Francisco and chief science officer of Posit Science, the creators of BrainHQ.

Here, Dr. Merzenich answers some top questions about his research and BrainHQ.

1. What inspired you to create the BrainHQ brain training program?

I was interested in how the brain accounted for our personhood. This was my primary motivation for pursuing a research career in brain science and neuroscience. Early in my scientific career, I started out by focusing on the listening brain (how we hear and how we interpret what we hear), and started doing experiments.

I realized that the classical, conventional way that people thought about the brain — that the brain was plastic (meaning that it was adaptive and malleable) when you’re a baby and basically grew into its permanent form by the time you were two or three years of age at the latest — just didn’t fit with the way that the listening brain was organized.

During that same period, I became involved in and led a research team that created one of the first cochlear implants. We created devices in which we could deliver adequate information for the individual, so that conceivably they could interpret what the language they were hearing would be. And we were shocked to see that two or three or four months later, they could understand everything without any instruction.

We realized the adult brain was also plastic — which meant that the right kind of brain exercises could actually rewire the brain, improving speed, memory, and other cognitive abilities, while also improving the biological health of the brain. And so I began to do experiments that evaluated or assessed that possibility.

Did you know that access to BrainHQ may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan? Check your eligibility today.

2. How does your team develop BrainHQ’s exercises?

There are several different elemental skills, or abilities, or dimensions of your operations that need to be refined. And there’s a relatively large literature in psychophysics — the study of human perception and recognition — that we draw on. Then, we create tasks that really apply these rules of brain plasticity so that we can efficiently drive improvements in the machinery of the brain.

3. Do the BrainHQ exercises change based on your abilities?

Yes. Every brain exercise basically establishes what your performance level is and then it simply tries to ratchet up your performance day by day, cycle by cycle, to a higher and higher and higher performance level. It does this until you are ideally well above average on everything you do. Maybe you’re doing fine. Well, you can do better. Maybe you’re really struggling. Well, you can basically come back into the normal range and ultimately become super-normal again.

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You might be eligible for no-cost brain training with BrainHQ.

Access to BrainHQ’s brain exercises may be included with your Medicare Advantage plan at no additional cost. Check your eligibility.

4. How do you know the exercises are effective?

In randomized controlled trials, the strategy has been evaluated against alternate strategies. What is reported with people randomly assigned to these groups is that you are driving changes in the brain that are different, of a greater magnitude.

Researchers see the neurology is changing in ways that account for those improvements in performance. This has been done over and over and over and over again. In several hundred reports, you’ll find that outcome.

5. What sets BrainHQ apart from other brain training programs?

First of all, it’s validated. No other brain-training strategy has anything close to the level of scientific validation. Hundreds of research trials have been published showing benefits of using BrainHQ, and hundreds more are in progress.

And BrainHQ is neuroscience-based. That is to say, it’s based upon a more complete understanding of what we call the integrated nervous system than most things that are done. There are other things that are out there that are useful. But I think BrainHQ is the most complete and most effective and certainly the most strongly validated program like this.

6. Why is brain training so important for older adults?

Most of us, in a sense, go into semiretirement neurologically well before we actually retire from the job. We spend too much time sitting on our keister, we spend too much time looking at screens and not really responding physically. We spend too much time basically inactive, from the point of view of engaging our brain to guide our actions. In all kinds of ways, we’re trying to live life as if we can operate without much use for a brain.

7. Do you personally use BrainHQ? What’s your brain training regimen?

I use BrainHQ, I would say, about a third of the days of the year. I commonly use it over a period of about six weeks at a time. It’s episodic, but when I’m doing so, I have a focus area any time that I use it.

8. What other activities do you like to do for fun to keep your brain sharp?

My wife would say I’m a man of a thousand hobbies (some of which involve hogging the kitchen), but really, what she means is that I’m continually trying to improve my operational abilities in the world.

I make a lot of pickles and jam and dried fruit and other preserved foods from things I grow in my garden, I have bees and harvest their honey, I do a lot of jigsaw puzzles (mostly bucolic country scenes), I play games with my kids and grandkids, I build furniture —  that’s a starter list! I think about how I can continually learn and extend my brain engagement in my wider life, so that I’m operationally more useful and more effective in it.

9. What else should people know about brain training?

Everyone out there has a brain that could be stronger, operationally more effective, healthier. You have it within your power — because your brain is plastic — to drive yourself into a stronger and safer, more effective position. And what is more important in life, as far as assuring a healthy future, than that?

Looking for more ways to build a healthy brain? Try BrainHQ, a brain-training program designed by leading scientists that rewires the brain to help you think faster, focus better, and remember more. And it may be included at no cost with your Medicare Advantage plan. Check your eligibility today.